Justice work isn’t just about the giant leaps; opportunities to serve justice come up quite unexpectedly sometimes, and all it takes is the courage to speak a few words with love.
After my last post, I checked out of my room and hauled my belongings back out to the car to depart Hurricane, Utah. As I got the last of my things packed away, I ended up in conversation with the older married couple who were also putting their luggage into their car. I asked which end of their travels they were on, and they said they had driven up from Tucson on their way to Washington.
“Oh, I’m going the other way!” I said. “I’m going to arrive in Phoenix today, having driven down from Minnesota.” When they asked why I had decided to roadtrip to Phoenix in July, I hedged a bit. “Oh, I was invited to this…thing…that’s happening on the 29th.”
The man laughed shortly. “Well, that’s not the only thing that’s happening on the 29th!”
“Oh?” I decided to play dumb. After all, I had no desire to ruffle any feathers first thing in the morning, and I didn’t know where these people stood on the issue of SB1070, the Arizona anti-immigration law that I’m protesting.
But the man decided to go there. “Well the 29th is the day the anti-immigration law goes into effect. It’s causing quite a stir. Lots of tension.”
“How do you see the law affecting you, as a citizen of Arizona?” I asked him. “Do you think the law is a good thing for people?” I found myself almost holding my breath.
“Well, something had to be done. The situation was getting out of hand.”
“Yes,” his wife chimed in, “those illegal immigrants are trashing the desert! There’s junk everywhere. And they have these gangs, and there’s violence, and it’s just plain awful.”
“But is this law really the right way to fix the situation?” I asked.
The man shrugged. “Well, I don’t know about that. It’s not perfect, but something had to be done. The federal government wasn’t doing anything about the situation, so we had to.”
“It sounds like a very difficult situation,” I agreed. “No one wants to live with violence and disrespect in the place they call home.”
“It is difficult,” the woman said. “We get someone coming over here, and then they have a baby. Now their baby is a citizen, but the parent is a criminal—an illegal alien. So when they get caught, the parent needs to be deported; they knew what they were getting themselves into. But the baby is a citizen, and has rights. We can’t deport the baby. But then we’re either breaking up a family, or we’re condoning a lawbreaker.”
I decided I needed to say something. “I’ve heard stories, even up in Minnesota. Parents are taking their children’s artwork off the refrigerator and instead putting up a single piece of paper. This piece of paper has instructions for what to do with the children if the parents are deported while the kids are in school.”
The woman looked upset. “That’s so sad!”
“It is. Doesn’t it seem to you that there has to be a better way to resolve things? Any law that tears apart families…there has to be something wrong with that.”
“But those families are using up our resources,” the man said. “They use our services and put a drain on our society. Then our tax dollars are being taken away from our children.”
“In some cases, you’re probably right,” I said. “But not in all cases. There are people who provide services that you make use of, who don’t cause any trouble. Some of those immigrants would make model citizens, if we gave them a chance.”
“True,” the man said, and the woman nodded too. “But there’s a right way to go about doing it. If they don’t do it that way, then they’re breaking the law.”
“Of the protesters I’ve spoken to,” I said carefully, “I haven’t heard any disagreement that immigration law reform is needed. It’s absolutely necessary. It just seems to me that we should be able to find a way to reform the law so that peaceful families can stay together, and the troublemakers get deported if necessary. I hear you about the violence and fear that people in Arizona are living with—and I don’t think the people protesting the law would want those things to continue any more than you do.”
We ended the conversation on a genial note, with smiles and well-wishes for safe travels. The woman thanked me for listening to her side, and I thanked both of them for listening to my opinions. It made my heart ache to realize that our polite and civil conversation was probably an anomaly. What’s wrong with our political system that people get so set on pushing a particular agenda that they lose sight of the actual problem that needs solving?
The drive down to Phoenix from there was relatively uneventful, though very beautiful. I had no idea that Arizona had even one National Forest, much less three that I drove through! I was up in the mountains with tall coniferous trees, and then down in rolling desert. For about an hour, I was cruising through desert that was so dry that there weren’t many plants at all. Yes, it was hot, but no hotter than I’ve felt it get (occasionally) in Minnesota. And it was a dry heat—no humidity.
And once again, there were thunderstorms! I held my hand out the window at one point, driving through the desert with raindrops pelting my hand. I drew my hand back in and rubbed my fingers together to savor the moisture. My fingers were already dry.
I could probably draw a line on the ground at the point where the elevation dropped below 4000 feet, the temperature suddenly spiked, and all of a sudden there were cacti growing all over the hillsides. I descended into Phoenix.
Thus began a very confusing evening. I arrived without mishap at my hostess’ home. But she wasn’t there. I tried calling the numbers she’d left me, but I couldn’t reach a person. So I called the hospitality coordinator, who gave me directions to the Phoenix UU church and told me to head that way. No sooner had I hung up and started driving than she called me back and asked if I would be willing to pick up a gentleman from the airport. I agreed, because it gave me something to do until I could get a hold of my hostess.
The gentleman and I arrived at the church just as a movie about 9500 Liberty was starting. It was a documentary about several YouTube videos that had been publicizing the anti-immigration measures that were taken in Prince William county, Virginia over the past several years.
At one point in the documentary, a blogger told his Virginia community that the Zapatistas from Chiapas, Mexico had brought their war to Prince William county in order to take over our country. I felt sick to my stomach as images of Subcomandante Marcos flashed across the screen. I had just been in Chiapas a month ago, talking to the Zapatistas. Anyone who had bothered doing any research would know that the Zapatistas (or EZLN) have absolutely no interest in taking over our country—they have enough on their plate trying to win liberation and freedom in their own country! What in the world would they do with ours? It made no sense, yet the townsfolk believed every word like gospel truth.
The whole experience confirmed that I really am in the right place doing the right thing. My trip to Mexico a month ago, followed by my experience at the UU GA in Minneapolis where we were called to come witness in Phoenix, compounded by my serendipitous ability to answer that call…. I can’t remember feeling more alive.
And now I’m off to receive some training so I have a better idea of what I’ve just gotten myself into!